Leadership in Public Arenas

Yanomami political structure is diffuse both internally and externally. Each local community is composed of several family groups. The eldest or most celebrated man with charismatic skills represents each family in an informal council. The standing of the leader can also change depending upon the issue. Decisions concerning the local community are made consensually. One of the family speakers usually acts as the leader in dealings with other Yanomami local groups. This spokesperson does not have the power to give orders. He articulates the will of the group and also strives to convince the members of his own group by the power of his rhetoric. The standard rhetoric device for public speech is the patamou, a loud address to the whole community. The rhetorical form of official talks between representatives of different village is the himou, a ceremonial dialog, in which political positions are negotiated.

Women are regularly present at public debates; their influence in communal decisions is informal but persuasive. They often interrupt the men's speeches to give their opinion and they are listened to respectfully. Older women also make public comments concerning local scandals or worries. In addition, older women have a considerable influence in relationships with other local groups. At times of intergroup conflict, when few people are willing to risk meeting the enemy, they are often the main participants in political negotiations. Women who have been abducted in earlier years may also initiate contacts with their original group and thus the making of new alliances.

Boys practice the skills of "talking," which is essential for persons of influence. With her change of status after having completed her maturity ritual, a woman is expected to be competent to "talk." In men, rhetoric is mainly expressed in the ceremonial dialogs (wayamou and himou). The shapori, "shaman," also uses speech in a powerful way. Speech and chant are the most significant capabilities of a spiritual specialist, a role that is taken only by men. Obviously speech is more important in men's lives, but it is also an important aspect of women's expression, although not quite as clearly ritualized as in men's ceremonial discourses.

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